Biz Buzz: SLO County wine aficionados share their holiday picks

Looking for wines for the holiday table or gifts? The Tribune asked local winemakers, shop owners and a chef to share their picks for the season.

At Christmas and New Year’s, both John Alban and Laurent Grangien gravitate to wines unlike those they work with every day.

“I usually drink French wine,” said Grangien, who owns Bistro Laurent and the Paso Robles Wine Shop. “I’m exposed to the local wine for the rest of the year, and I want to go back to my roots. I like the Rhône, Châteauneuf-de-Pape.”

Champagnes like Veuve Clicquot are also top of mind. Locally, Grangien recommends a bubbly from Laetitia Vineyards & Winery or Vina Robles.

“Sparkling wine would be the wine of celebration,” he said. “You don’t start the holidays without a little champagne.”

The winemaker and co-owner of Alban Vineyards in Arroyo Grande agreed.

“I love sparkling wine,” Alban said. “I love the whole ceremony. I believe the cork should fly through the air.”

One of the earliest champions of Central Coast Rhône-style wines, Alban’s label is celebrating its 20th year.

He’s also celebrating the global attention this local category has received, “undeniably culminating with Saxum (James Berry Vineyard 2007) being named Wine of the Year” by Wine Spectator magazine. The Paso Robles wine is a blend of grenache, mourvèdre and syrah.

Alban suggests celebrating this season by giving or serving a local Rhône-style wine. Grenache-based reds go well with turkey or goose, while syrah brings out the flavors of slow-cooked and braised dishes.

Alban prefers a chilled white with soups like bouillabaisse: “I like the hot-and-cold effect, personally.”

Signe Zoller, president and winemaker at Zoller Wine Styling in Paso Robles, has crafted wines from the Central Coast since the 1980s.

“We’re of Danish ancestry,” she said, adding her holiday meals include a Danish stew with dumplings “like cream puffs.” She’ll probably pair it with a pinot noir.

Zoller recommends vermentino, an Italian white grown locally since Tablas Creek Vineyard began importing it around 2003.

“There’re only a few people who make it. That’s good with turkey,” she said. “I’ve really liked marsanne with any kind of seafood dish.”

Primitivo — a spicier cousin to zinfandel — is her preference with lasagna, veal parmesan or pork chops.

For wine shoppers, Zoller’s studio offers personalized custom labels. One gift-giver bought a 2006 cabernet and requested a baseball-themed label.

“He called it Grand Slam,” Zoller said. “We can do that pretty instantly for the same amount as the bottle.”

Jeff Munsey and his wife Felicia Alvarez, owners of Pithy Little Wine Co. in San Luis Obispo, plan to serve 2004 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and 2004 Saxum Broken Stones.

“Since we’re fortunate to have a bottle or two of it,” he said, “it’s a nice opportunity to share it with our guests.”

Until Christmas Eve, his shop is serving warm, mulled wine. Merlot works well, he advised, though spices can be added to any red or white.

“We serve a lot of spiced, mulled wine,” Munsey said. “It smells like Christmas in a glass.”

Local wines on Top 100

The San Francisco Chronicle’s annual list of Top 100 Wines of 2010 includes five from San Luis Obispo County: 2009 Alban Vineyards Central Coast Viognier, 2009 Zocker Paragon Vineyard Edna Valley Gruner Veltliner, 2007 Caliza Azimuth Paso Robles, 2008 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel Paso Robles and 2008 Ancient Peaks Paso Robles Zinfandel.

The 2008 Copain James Berry Paso Robles Roussanne, produced in the Russian River Valley with grapes from this local vineyard, also earned a spot.

The focus this year was “small,” said Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonné in his introduction. “As in: small wineries, small vineyards, small amounts of wine.”

— Raven J. Railey

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